Sexual Harassment at Work is All Too Common. If You’re Victimized, Know Your Rights!

Sexual harassment in the workplace finally received the international attention it deserves when the infamous Harvey Weinstein allegations went viral, becoming one of the most hotly-debated topics in the country and the world at large. The events were a shot in the arm for workers’ rights activists.

It can happen to anyone, whether male or female, and sometimes in the form of a seemingly harmless act such as sending a suggestive letter or email to a co-worker/employee, or making inappropriate sexual gestures. In other cases, it can be something as serious as inappropriate touching or even sexual assault.

What Are Your Rights Regarding Workplace Sexual Harassment?

By definition, sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual behavior (either physical, verbal, or written), which would cause you to feel offended, intimidated, or humiliated. In other words, it is any sexually-inspired behavior that is not mutually agreed upon. A single incident is enough to warrant a sexual harassment claim but, unfortunately, recent statistics suggest that as many as 75% of all cases go unreported. Why? Mostly because of shame, fear, cultural norms, or sheer ignorance. Beyond the legal ramifications,  if you feel that your work environment has caused you to suffer depression, anxiety, fear or other mental health issues, do not hesitate to seek out professional counseling. Not only will this help you process better any abuse you may have been subjected to, but it will further assist your attorney in the future, should litigation be required.

What you may not realize is that sexual harassment is against the law under the Equal Opportunity Act. In fact, certain types of sexual harassment technically qualify as offenses under criminal law. These include sexual assault, stalking, indecent exposure, and obscene communications in the form of text messages, phone calls, social media posts, etc.

Filing a Sexual Harassment Case

  1. Gather Evidence

If you believe you are being sexually harassed, document everything regarding the incident to the last detail. Include the description of the event, when and where it happened, witnesses present, and other key details. Make copies of any texts, emails, or notes from the harasser and be sure to describe in your record how you felt during the incident.  Keep a journal just for this purpose as well to chronicle developments and how they affected you personally, professionally and emotionally.

  1. Consider How to Bring the Issue to Management

The most likely place to report sexual harassment in the workplace is the Human Resources (HR) department, however, refer to your employee manual for specific guidance. The quandary is that the HR office is essentially designed to protect your employer, not you. This means that you will probably have a hard time presenting your case if the harasser is a senior figure in your workplace or a part of management. Even coworkers who witness the event may be reluctant to stand with you out of fear of possible repercussions.

A good way to avoid this problem is by filing a formal, written complaint citing all the documented evidence you have gathered. The subject of the official email complaint should be clear and straightforward: Official Complaint of Sexual Harassment. This way, it will be difficult for anyone to dismiss the case or legally ignore the complaint. You will want to send it to both your employer and HR manager (if available) so that everyone stays in the know.  Make sure to preserve any documents including emails that are supportive of your claim and printed out, as this will be important information that may not be available to you later on, should your employer retaliate as described below.

  1. Wait for a Response

Once your employer and HR department receive the formal complaint of sexual harassment, they should begin an investigation as soon as possible. This can involve interviewing the harasser as well as other employees, and will most likely include a review of you and the accused person’s personnel files. The idea is to determine if there are other victims involved and whether similar situations have appeared in the past. The company should then use the findings of the investigation to take some action addressing the problem.

It is important to note that firing or penalizing an employee for filing a sexual harassment claim is illegal. This is referred to as “employee retaliation” or “retaliatory discharge” and it is prohibited by both state and federal laws. You can actually file a claim for retaliation if you were penalized or laid off for submitting a complaint against your boss.  Examples of retaliation include increased scrutiny by your employer, accompanied by paper trails to justify adverse disciplinary action leading up to and including termination, when there had been no disciplinary actions taken in the past.

  1. Consider Seeking Legal Assistance

If your company fails to adequately resolve the issue, such as placing you under the direct supervision of the offender with no consequence,  you should consider hiring an employment attorney to help navigate you through the processes taken by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) including assisting with preparations of a charge and  investigation of your claim. However, you need to do this no later than 300 days of the last harassment incident, preferably within 180 days. A formal complaint to the EEOC is necessary, prior to receiving a “Right to Sue” letter by the agency.

Working with a trained, experienced attorney who is board certified in Labor & Employment Law is the best way to prove your sexual harassment case as clearly as possible. If you have any questions or concerns, the Amsberry Law Firm is here for you. Call us today at (210) 354-2244 to talk with one of our representatives.

Written by Amsberry Law Firm

Amsberry Law Firm

Mr. Amsberry is board-certified in family and labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also active in family law, estate and elder law, and business law. He is a proven litigator who has argued before the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and earned favorable outcomes in complex, precedent-setting employment and civil rights cases. He served as a reservist assistant judge advocate general in the U.S. Army and is a sought-after lecturer and speaker on a range of legal issues.

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